Consequences

The unthinkable has happened. Readers will know that I’ve had two job interviews recently. You will also know that I got the first post, which is permanent and based in London. Yesterday, I found out I also got the other one which, I can now reveal, is based in Hong Kong. That one is only for a year.

The choice is clear. Continue reading

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Soft return

This is a story in pictures – Rosie’s. They’re all family portraits of sorts, drawn between the ages of 3 and 5, spanning Ben’s descent into the morass of drink and his slow resurrection – his soft return to her.

Daddy (©Rosie, aged 3)

Daddy (©Rosie, aged 3). Early days – shortly after I discovered that Ben was drinking while Rosie was in his care. I stopped leaving her with him. He was shaking miserably back then, in constant withdrawal, by turns vomiting and sipping beer through a straw, because he couldn’t keep still enough to drink it directly from the can.

Continue reading

Happy birthday, Rosie

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Yes, I made this. Beneath all that confection lurks a jam and cream-filled Victoria sponge.

Rosie turned five today – her first birthday with a sober dad. We celebrated at a pottery painting cafe in Muswell Hill with nine of her friends. My mum was there, too, all the way from Canada.

Me being me, I was tense throughout, though I managed to chat to a few parents here and there, and survey the children, hoping none of them would break free from the work table and send a shelf-load of unpainted pottery crashing to the floor (they didn’t). Continue reading

Inheritance of loss

These are the things our parents give us (and that we, in turn, bequeath to our children). There are the deliberate gestures – the passing on of certain attitudes and behaviours:

  • no shoes in the house
  • a love of good cheese and chocolate
  • an appreciation of literature and classical music
  • frugality that morphs into a penchant for recycling
  • disdain for flashiness and the pursuit of financial gain at all costs
  • the pursuit of education at all costs
  • a deep sense of justice and fairness
  • a secret love of meringues

And then there are the accidental loans  – the unconscious drip-drip of patterns and behaviours that leak out despite (or in the absence of) the best intentions: Continue reading

Photographic memories

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So, the first thing you should know is that the ‘b’ on my keyboard is missing. I look down and I swear I’m using a Hill Billy‘s teeth to write this post (no offence intended). It still functions, but it’s playing havoc with my touch-typing. Thank goodness I’ve got another computer on the way.

This laptop has served me well (even if it is a PC). I’ve had it since Rosie was born – about four years now. I guess that’s – what? – 10 in computer years? And 10, as we all know, might as well be 100.

A few hours ago, Rosie and I were looking at some old video footage of her from when she was a baby. Lots of funny shots of her drinking – practically chewing – water, or tripping out to a musical star-shaped light. In among them were shots of Ben and Rosie. Ben looking normal around the time Rosie was born, then slowly deteriorating as the years scud by.

This is the problem with looking at Rosie’s baby pictures. I look at them, and no sooner do I smile than I’m looking away, not wanting to see the other thing growing: Ben’s disease, his depression, despair and alcoholism… his barely-there-ness.

It really only struck me today how much Rosie has been through, how much she has lost. How much we all lost. The pictures and videos tell a skewed story. Ben looks ok in many of them,  I’m actually smiling or laughing, Rosie appears oblivious. It is the lie – the fallacy of a happy family – that will assert itself when strangers view this footage somewhere far in the future. Rosie may even decide to create a new narrative of her childhood based on it, one that does not have a shouty mummy and drunk daddy.

As for me, I can’t reconstruct anything from those images but the memory of what it was. This makes me doubly sad, because Rosie’s baby pictures are forever tainted by Ben’s alcoholism. What a lot she has been through. What a lot we have all been through.

It isn’t over, of course. I will  not allow myself to become too comfortable with Ben as he is now. I want him to succeed and stay clean, but I know the odds are against him. It has only been seven months. That is no time at all to undo a habit of a life time.

In the mean time, I hug Rosie as hard as I can, as if that can make it all better – not just for her, but me, too. Wrapped up in everything is guilt, my guilt at not managing my anger better (something I struggle with every day). If only, I keep telling myself.

If only I had a calmer demeanour. If only I reached out before instead of shutting down. If only I had appreciated things when they were good, instead of looking for the bad all the time. If only I had opened my heart to Rosie right away, from the day she was born, instead of spending weeks worrying there was something wrong with her. If only I could stop obsessing about all the things we should be doing, and concentrate on what we are doing. If only, if only, if only.

Pictures and their thousand words. For us, a thousand memories, like subatomic particles, zooming about, triggering all sorts of unexpected reactions. I suppose, there is loss and then there is gain. Right now, things are ok. Tomorrow, they will be better. The day after that… it doesn’t matter.

What matters is now.

Hiatus

Ben was around for most of the past week. Whenever he’s here, I don’t write. I don’t want him catching me in the act, so to speak. Or, worse still, opening up the computer to find one of my entries still drying on the screen.

Rosie has been ill, and Ben – to his credit – stayed here to look after her while I went to work.

This is a new thing for us. Having observed his recent progress, I’ve decided to let him collect Rosie from school on Mondays. He’s managed well – and is currently keeping off the booze – so I felt ok about leaving Rosie with him the past few days.

It’s been a lot less stressful, too. It’s meant having the luxury of a lunch break – though I never actually took one. Just knowing I had the choice was enough for me. I’ve even been considering signing up for an evening course. Suddenly, I feel like a space has opened up for me… for now.

Now is the operative word. Right now, I’m comfortable leaving Rosie with Ben. Tomorrow, next week, next month – those are all unknowns. I’ve had to adapt to this. Uncertainty isn’t my comfort zone, but it’s become easier to accept, given so much of my life is currently up in the air.

Take my job. First, my team and I were told we’d be made redundant in March. Now they’re saying July. I’m looking for jobs anywhere I can find one. My current fantasy is to move to Dakar – not that that is going to happen. Last summer, I was almost certain I was going to Hong Kong. And just the other day, I saw a job in Bonn that looked very promising – until I read the spec and realised it was actually really rather boring. 

What I’m trying to say is 2013 looks like a bit of a juggle. There’s Ben and his unpredictable moods. There’s my job/no-job. There’s Rosie and her daily tantrums over underpants.

I prefer not to think too much about Ben and his recovery. Yesterday, Ben’s friend, Tom – a fellow ex-addict and other co-dependent – was kicked out of his sheltered accommodation. Apparently, he’d tested positive for opiates. The housing association that manages the house randomly tests residents (Ben’s house isn’t quite so rigorous). Ben told me Tom doesn’t do opiates and had in fact probably eaten a lemon poppy seed loaf or something similar. I thought this was far-fetched until I looked it up, and – shock/horror – poppy seeds can contribute to a positive drug test. Who knew?

Poor Tom had to move out right away. Ben left us here, since Rosie was ok, and went right over to Tom’s place to make sure he was ok. At least Ben is reliable when it comes to Tom. When it comes to us, there are any number of excuses.

Even as I write this, I shrug. This is Ben. And it’s his dad. I never realised how similar the two of them were until recently. Ben would be horrified to hear this, considering how disappointed he is with his dad. He can’t quite see that the things that upset him about his father are the same things that upset me about him.

Whatever.

The other day, I found myself trawling the personals in the Guardian. I did it because I was curious. But as I read more and more ads (it’s perversely addictive), I became increasingly terrified of the world out there, with its coded vocabulary and loaded expectations.

And so many of those guys were so damn smug. No wonder they’re single.

And what of Ben and me? How to define where we are now? The only certainty we have is that we are Rosie’s mum and dad. We prefer to focus on that, and shelve the other stuff for now.

ps. Ben still hasn’t replied my email.